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Current position

There is no general legal requirement on those working with children in England to report known or suspected child abuse or neglect. Nevertheless, the statutory guidance, Working Together to Safeguard Children, states that “anyone who has concerns about a child’s welfare should make a referral to local authority children’s social care and should do so immediately if there is a concern that the child is suffering significant harm or is likely to do so.” While statutory guidance does not impose an absolute legal requirement to comply, it requires practitioners and organisations to take it into account and, if they depart from it, to have clear reasons for doing so.

Non-statutory advice published by the Department for Education, What to do if you’re worried a child is being abused, complements the statutory guidance and aims to help practitioners identify child abuse and neglect and take appropriate action in response.

In addition, a number of professional regulators and bodies (predominantly those in the health and social care sectors) require their members to report any concerns about a child’s safety or well-being. A professional’s failure to adhere to such standards or codes of conduct may result in misconduct or fitness to practise proceedings against them.

Mandatory reporting duty

There have been calls for a mandatory duty to report known or suspected child abuse and neglect to be introduced for specific groups, such as social workers and teachers. Proponents argue that a mandatory reporting duty would offer greater protection to children.

In July 2016, the Government launched a consultation which sought views on two possible reforms in relation to reporting child abuse and neglect:

  • The introduction of mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect.
  • The introduction of a duty to take appropriate action in relation to child abuse or neglect.

In its response to the consultation, published in March 2018, the Government stated that it had decided against introducing either a mandatory reporting duty or a duty to act. While recognising the argument that mandatory reporting could reduce the risk that serious cases pass unnoticed, the Government response raised a number of risks associated with such a duty or a duty to act.

Mandatory reporting in other countries

Since April 2016 certain public bodies in Wales have been under a duty to inform the local authority if they have “reasonable cause to suspect that a child” is experiencing or is at risk of abuse, neglect or other kinds of harm; or has care and support needs. The duty applies at an organisational level, rather than to individuals.

Mandatory reporting laws also exist in a number of other countries internationally, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Hungary, the Republic of Ireland, Israel, Norway and the United States.

Although there is significant variation, the core components of mandatory reporting laws include:

  • Who is covered by the duty
  • What must be reported
  • Who the report must be made to
  • Sanctions for failing to report

In an annex to its 2016 consultation the Government stated that a lack of academic consensus concerning the effects of mandatory reporting means that it is not possible “to make firm conclusions about whether such schemes improve, worsen, or have no affect on child safeguarding outcomes.”

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